This phrase is used by safety professionals to critique a perceived (or demonstrated) lack of interest in safety. In the military, I frequently hear, “If only I had more rank, then I could change things.”
Only it’s not true (and I’ve held every enlisted rank (one or two several different times)). Rank and position, even in the military, is not the answer.
The phrase first gained popularity in 2001 with a book of the same title and refers to managing and leading up the corporate hierarchy or chain of command.
When you lead up, your official position no longer limits your effectiveness nor span of control.
Leading up is accomplished through influence. Engender and cultivate trust. Do your job better than anyone else, present or past. Ear the ear of your boss in important matters. Know your company’s mission and the priorities of your supervisor’s supervisor. Build capability (experience, education and certifications) in yourself and your team.